Horse Shoe Bend – Salt River Canyon

Author: Shane McDermott
All photos copyright Shane McDermott

Salt River Canyon (2)

I first discovered Horse Shoe Bend using Google Earth. As I was scouting for an assignment I was given by Arizona Highways, I came across what looked like a pretty spectacular bend in the Salt River. Well I was certainly not disappointed upon my first visit to this location!

Salt River Canyon (1)This location is only somewhat remote, Although it doesn’t seem like this area receives many visitors, it is only moderately difficult to access. A 4×4 or higher clearance AWD with GOOD tires will get you there. There are absolutely no services once you leave the main highway (188). So be sure to bring all the supplies you need including water, enough fuel, camping gear, first aid kit, vehicle recovery equipment and various forms of sun shade.

The drive in to Horse Shoe Bend from highway 188 is approximately 20 miles depending on where you decide to enter and stop. The access to FR 219 is a bit tricky with a couple of ways in. I would suggest those interested to obtain a copy of the National Geographic Salt River Canyon map or a good forestry topo map. FR219 is gated but not locked, and requires sign-in.  From this point FR 219 gradually becomes more and more sandy and rocky in places. In the
hotter months the road will become very sandy! So vehicle recovery gear may become necessary. At least be sure to bring a shovel. On the way you will pass a couple of junctions 220 to the right and 223 to the left. Continue to stay on the main FR219. After about 20 miles you will encounter a locked gate which markers your arrival. Approximately 50m before the gate is an open graveled pullout on the right which makes a good location for base camp or day parking.

From here you are on your own! The road continues past the gate for a few more miles which offers a safer hiking option. Otherwise there were not any obvious trails that I found. The areas I explored required careful navigation through loose rocky ground and areas of dense desert flora. There was one very obscure trail (just past the locked gate on the right) that lead to the river shore down a gentle slope of loose rock (scree). Be Careful! Overall this is a stunningly beautiful area worth a visit between March – May to catch the desert bloom!

Salt River Canyon

Happy Adventures.

Shane McDermott is a landscape photographer, frequent contributor to Arizona Highways magazine and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.